HC Deb 03 December 1985 vol 88 cc210-52
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Mr. Speaker has selected the Prime Minister's amendment.

7.13 pm
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I beg to move, That this House gives its fill support to the employees of Silentnight plc who are on strike; notes that the workforce of the company have shown great forbearance in the face of an aggressive and obdurate management, that the union agreed to forgo a claimed pay rise for three months in return for an undertaking by the company of no further redundancies, but that the company broke the agreement eight weeks later by declaring another 52 employees redundant and that the present strike was supported by a ballot of the workforce; condemns the company for refusing a union offer to submit the dispute to binding arbitration and for dismissing those on strike; further notes that the company's claim that it cannot afford a pay rise costing £210,000 in a year fits oddly with its ability to pay out dividends to family shareholders of £700,000; and calls upon the company to lift the dismissal notices and negotiate, and upon the Government to use its influence to bring an end to this dispute. I begin by making it clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), deeply regrets his absence tonight and has asked me to put on record for the House and the Silentnight workers his regret that his duties have taken him elsewhere.

We have chosen to debate this dispute partly because we and the Silentnight workers want a settlement of this six-month dispute. We believe that if the Government were willing, they could use their influence to settle the dispute. We do not accept the Government's amendment and their suggestion that they find the dispute regrettable. If they did, they could use their influence to bring the dispute to an end.

We also wish to debate the dispute because of its wider implications. We want to know whether there are the kind of industrial relations the Government are now seeking. We hear much about a new atmosphere in industrial relations and about management's right to manage. We want to know whether the Government intend to return us to 19th-century industrial relations and to the bitterness and conflict that we see in the Silentnight dispute. We are all aware of examples of this style of industrial relations from our own constituencies.

In my constituency there was a similar bitter dispute that ended some months ago at Kenwal Brothers in Middlemore road. It lasted 19 weeks. It was a small textile workshop with appalling conditions and illegal rates of pay. The workers learned that the rates were illegal and that there were such things as wages councils which were meant to protect them. They learned of their rights, and it was not because the wages inspectorate came to inspect the offices. The workers joined a trade union. The owner conceded the minimum rates under the wages council and shortly afterwards deliberately provoked a dispute which lasted 19 weeks.

At the request of the workers, I was involved in meetings with the owner. He told me that he deeply regretted the dispute, that everything that he had built up in his working life was now lost and that he would have to sell up. Once the mostly Asian women workers at Kenwal Brothers decided that they could not go on with their strike, the owner reopened his business and took on more workers, as I understand it, at illegal rates of pay. Again the wages inspectorate has not intervened. We have a strong sense of community in Ladywood, however, and the owner is finding it difficult to obtain enough workers. My hon. Friend could tell similar stories of a deterioration of industrial relations which the Government seem to describe as an improved atmosphere.

The Silentnight dispute has been going on for six months. It has caused enormous hardship to those who are on strike and has also caused the company's first loss. The half-yearly figures published in October showed an £828,000 group loss compared with a £1.1 million profit for the same period last year. The company, it seems, is willing to damage its financial interests as well as the livelihoods of its 346 workers, for purely ideological reasons.

The Government may wish to claim that the dispute has nothing to do with them. That is the implication of the amendment that they seek to move tonight. That claim does not stand up to scrutiny when we look at the record of the company, its involvement with the Conservative party and the record of Ministers and their entanglement with the company.

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

The what?

Ms. Short

I shall come to what I am implying. Mr. Tom Clarke, who is a chairman of the company, is a member of the Conservative party and was until recently president of the Skipton Conservative association. His links with the Tory party got him an OBE from the present Government for services to industry. It also got him a visit from the Prime Minister—certainly a Minister—in 1983, who described him as "Mr. Wonderful". We want to know from the Minister tonight whether the Government still consider him and his industrial relations policy wonderful.

Even worse, in the Adjournment debate on 6 November initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier)—we notice that he is not answering for the Government tonight and wonder whether that is some form of an apology—defended the management of the company and gave a misleading account of the dispute, taken, we believe, from a misleading company briefing published for the purpose of that debate. He made some wild and unsubstantiated allegations about violent conflict in the course of the dispute. Much of this was misleading and untrue. It is likely that some of it will be repeated this evening so my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley will deal with the allegations in some detail later.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

My hon. Friend referred to allegations of violence or intimidation—at least, that was the implication of her words. Is she aware that, after the 5,000-strong rally on Saturday in Barnoldswick in support of the strikers, Mr. David Marshall, the regional official of the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union, was attacked and injured by two men with sticks? If pickets had attacked management representatives, right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench and every Tory newspaper in Britain would have been talking about or reporting acts of violence and intimidation. When union officials are on the receiving end of sticks, there is total silence from Ministers and Tory newspapers.

Ms. Short

I was not aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having put the matter on the record.

In the Adjournment debate to which I have referred, the Minister cannot claim that he was being impartial about the dispute and expressing the regret that the Government claim in the amendment that the dispute has been continuing for some time. He made no attempt to encourage conciliation and a settlement. Indeed, he said that the Prime Minister was right to praise Mr. Clarke, and added: We need more people like Tom Clarke."—[Official Report, 6 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 103.]. I shall tell the House what the local newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

That is a good newspaper.

Ms. Short

—thought of the remarks of the Minister, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen. Its editorial of 8 November reads: What kind of employment minister is the one likely to appear more responsible—one who seeks to end a strike or one who fans the flames of the dispute? We ask this because of the apparently crass and partisan behaviour of Rossendale and Darwen MP Mr. David Trippier, No. 2 at the Department of Employment"— I do not know whether the Minister is No. 2 in the Department— during the Commons debate into the bitter, 22-week dispute at the Silentnight works at Barnoldswick, where some 500 employees were sacked after striking over a pay claim. For we believe Mr. Trippier comes out of it very badly—in seeming to take sides and so wasting the opportunity to use his office to get both sides together. He is sufficiently experienced to know that no dispute is ever solved by intransigence, but his line in the debate can only prolong that attitude. If his stance were prompted by a belief that the public generally does support governmental moves to curb over-reaching trade union power, he has made the mistake of going too far into the realm of pure union-bashing, something which, we believe, goes beyond most people's idea of political responsibility. So in declaring his support for this employer and saying that the country needs more like it, Mr. Trippier overlooks the fact that firms cannot thrive in the atmosphere of polarised industrial relations and that it is the duty of a responsible employment minister to promote the alternative. We hope that tonight we may get a rather different attitude from the Department of Employment.

The history of the dispute is well known. There have been articles in The Guardian, The Times and the Daily Mirror and a programme on Channel 4. That is quite remarkable for a relatively small localised dispute. It is surprising that it received such strong national coverage. Perhaps the reason is that the injustice is so gross. It is a typical example of the shifting mood in industrial relations which the Government seem anxious to promote.

In January 1985, the company asked the workers to forgo a wage increase for between three and four months to avoid job losses. The workers agreed to that. In April 1985, the company reneged on the deal and declared 56 redundancies. The workers accordingly requested their pay increase. The company refused and said that it could not afford to pay it. The trade union made inquiries to ascertain whether that was true and undertook some research. It found that the claim was false.

It found, first, that from January 1984 to January 1985 the company made a profit of £595,000; secondly, that the Silentnight group of companies made a profit of £2.5 million; thirdly, that the chief executive of the company, Mr. Tom Clarke, received a £5,000 a year increase, bringing his salary to £50,000 a year; fourthly, that a family trust called Famco, which is composed of Mr. Tom Clarke and immediate members of his family, received £646,000 this year in dividends from group profits; and, fifthly, that it would have cost only £250,000 over 12 months to pay the members of the union their nationally agreed wage rise. These are the economic facts of the dispute.

In May, there was a ballot at the company on the refusal to honour the award. The result was that 352 workers voted for industrial action and 203 against out of a work force of 700. The ballot produced a 3:2 majority in favour of industrial action. The company remained obstinate and refused arbitration on a number of occasions. Despite what the company is putting out in its briefings and what the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen, said in the Adjournment debate, the union declared itself willing to go to arbitration in the absence of any terms. It did so because it was not possible to reach agreement on terms. The union has been anxious throughout the dispute to go to arbitration and the company has refused to do so.

As a result of the failure to come to an agreement, a go-slow started on 10 June. Again, the workers were anxious not to strike. They decided merely to take some action to promote negotiations with the management. Immediately the go-slow started, shop stewards were summoned by the management and told that if the workers were not working normally in 10 minutes, they would be suspended and sent home. The result was that 200 were suspended. The remaining workers walked out. Three factories came to a standstill and, in July, 346 workers received dismissal notices. They are still on strike.

Those workers want—and we want—the Government to use their substantial influence with the company to arrive at a settlement and get the workers back to work. Are the Government willing to use their influence in that way? Is the Minister willing to say that he thinks that the dismissal notices should be withdrawn and that there should be negotiations? If he is not, we are forced to conclude that this is an example of the industrial relations that the Government are trying to promote and that this is what they mean by management's right to manage. If that happens, we know that there will be more and more bitter conflicts of this sort throughout the land which will bring benefit to no one.

7.28 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: notes with regret the recent industrial dispute at Silentnight plc.". The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) started by apologising for the absence of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). If the turnout in the Tyne Bridge by-election is reduced from that at the general election, I am sure that he would not want all the credit to be given to him. If that is where he is, I hope that the weather is not too cold or wet.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

The Minister is wet.

Mr. Bottomley

I listened to what the hon. Lady had to say—

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

Perhaps I should tell the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) would like to express his apologies for his absence. He has been very ill in hospital and has undergone a major operation. He has not yet returned to the House. I think that his apologies should be recorded as the Silentnight dispute affects him and some of his constituents.

Mr. Bottomley

My words have been taken out of my mouth, but I suspect that that may happen on several occasions this evening. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

I am sorry but not surprised that some of the versions of the events preceding the dispute are not accepted on all sides. There are different points of view. As the hon. Lady acknowledged, with less elegance than I would have expected of her, the Government's amendment is neutral. We do not believe that to make such disputes matters of major party controversy helps their resolution. I do not think that it is useful if either side says, "We shall fight, fight and fight whatever the cost."

As the hon. Member for Ladywood has said, the House has had an opportunity to debate the matter. On 6 November, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the Under-Secretary of State, noted some of the facts. The report of that debate shows that some of the facts were disputed by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). We may hear more from the hon. Gentleman when he replies on behalf of the Opposition. Since the dismissal notices were issued, the company has said that it considers the dispute to be over. I am aware that many of the workers who were dismissed hope to bring their cases before an industrial tribunal, and we shall have to see what view is taken of these matters. I would not wish to anticipate or prejudice the tribunal's rulings.

It seems that there are three main areas where the facts are in dispute. During the early part of the year, when asking the work force to forgo any wage increase for a short period because of financial difficulties, the company said that it undertook to avoid any job losses if possible. The union claims that there was a no redundancy guarantee.

The union believed that the increases in the minimum rates provided for in the national agreement and finally conceded by the company after the ballot would be reflected in increases for all workers. The company believed that by that concession it had honoured the national agreement in full, and refused to extend the offer to pieceworkers.

Attempts have been made to put the matter to conciliation. I understand that the parties have not been able to agree to the terms of reference. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said on 6 November that the company had offered to put the matter to conciliation on terms of reference that were wholly impossible for the union to accept."—[Official Report, 6 November; Vol. 86, c. 102.] I do not know what those terms were, but equally it could be said that the union could not accept conciliation on the terms offered by the company.

The hon. Member for Ladywood called on the Government to intervene and, in effect, impose the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service on the parties in the dispute. I remind the hon. Lady that it was a Labour Government who made ACAS legally independent of the Department of Employment. If I can put it this way, they privatised it, or hived it off. Now they want the Government to renationalise it by telling it what to do.

Although the Labour party cannot seem to make up its mind, the Government have no doubts. Arbitration and conciliation can play a useful role in problems where both the employer and the union wish them to be involved. Both sides in the Silentnight dispute have had an opportunity to take advantage of the services of ACAS. They have failed to agree on what basis ACAS should be involved, if at all. How would we be able to solve that problem by forcing ACAS on them, even if we could? Governments cannot force ACAS on a party, but there are lessons that we can all learn from the sad events that we have been discussing tonight.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Minister trying to dissociate himself from the actions of the company? Do I sense that he wishes to condemn the company for what it is doing? Will he be more forthcoming?

Mr. Bottomley

Yes, especially if it means that the hon. Gentleman will not intervene again but will wait to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye to develop his own points.

We had a debate in which both sides of the argument were put. I do not believe that the Labour party was saying that all the right was on one side or that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was saying that all the wrong was on one side. Any reasonable reading of the debate will demonstrate that. I am trying to show those who are unfortunately involved in the dispute and those who may be involved in similar disputes that the solutions usually lie in their own hands.

In an industrial relations conflict, there are normally losers. Often the losers are on both sides of the argument. As many people have discovered over the years, it is better to resolve disputes before they become of interest to the House, the Morning Star or other newpapers. Once they become celebrated causes, things are normally lost on both sides.

We know that a ballot was held. I am glad about that. That is one of the few redeeming features of the sorry tale, even though the question on the ballot paper did not make it clear, as the Trade Union Act 1984 requires, that the industrial action proposed would involve the union members in a breach of their contracts of employment. The holding of a ballot can in no way protect workers from the consequences of following a course of action that cannot fail to put their jobs at risk. The Government's aim is to give union members the right to be consulted before taking that risk. In this case the union did not make its members fully aware of the possible consequences.

One of the lessons to be learned is that union officials have a duty to be open with their members and to lay all the facts and considerations before them.

Ms. Clare Short

They did.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Lady says in a quiet voice, "They did." She cannot deny that the question on the ballot paper called for support for action up to and including a strike. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) should stick to the terms of our agreement and keep quiet until I have finished my speech.

I strongly believe that employees can and must be told the truth and be responsible for their own decisions. They are in the same position as employers. If union officials, whether lay or full-time officials, fail in that duty they may sacrifice their members' jobs at a time when many people would be grateful for any opportunity to be usefully and gainfully employed.

I could go on at length and develop a theme that I think is important—keeping unit wage costs competitive. I shall leave that to the end if hon. Members are interested. If the hon. Member for Workington wants me to deal with that, perhaps he will ask during his speech, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is important not only for unions to be open with their members but for employers fully to inform and involve their employees in the running of the business. Employee involvement, workplace participation, building up trust and shared information between employer and employee is not an optional extra; it is the best way of doing business. It is also one of the ways, when developed over the years, to ensure that when an employer says something employees know that it is meant, and vice versa. Unions should be clear, not only with their members but with the employers.

Successful concerns are usually the ones that properly use the full potential of the people they employ. The better informed the work force, the less likely it is to take any action that would endanger its own prospects or the future of the company, or both, because they are normally bound together. Increased awareness leads to an increased sense of responsibility.

The hon. Member for Ladywood has mentioned the wider implications. In a broader context, the Department of Employment has produced figures that show that the number of working days lost through strikes last month was the lowest for 10 years. That is good news for all of us. With inflation falling, national output increasing and the number of people in work rising steadily, there is the opportunity for industry to compete effectively at home and abroad. That good news must not obscure or overlay the truth. Strikes will always put jobs at risks, as has happened in this sad case. There are seldom winners, and there are often losers.

In this case, the workers have lost their jobs and the management has lost part of its skilled and experienced work force. I do not think it is any comfort to the management, employees or ex-employees that the business is now being discussed in this forum.

The dispute could be seen as a throwback to the bad old days of the 1960s and 1970s when unions thought that they could use power over employers, perhaps without thinking as deeply as they should or without due regard to the longer-term consequences.

Mr. Nellist

In defining this dispute in terms of robber baron trade unions holding power over healthy management, the hon. Gentleman should be aware that the union at Silentnight has been in existence for only 21 months. It was formed in February 1984 after months of attacks by management on the conditions and wages of the workers. It is not a plot by the union; it is the response of a work force that overwhelmingly admitted that in 1983 most of its members voted for the Government.

Mr. Bottomley

I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman in two ways. First, I think that he must have been listening to what I have said with his mouth rather than with his ears. I hope that he will refresh his memory tomorrow by reading the Official Report. Secondly, I acknowledge that the building and organisation of a union is seldom easy and that building a business is never easy. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Workington interrupts again. He keeps making promises that he cannot keep. I suggest that he takes a course in business because he will discover that, both on the union side and on the management side, people saying things that they live up to is important. That may be one of the lessons to be learnt from the dispute.

The Government make no apologies for prodding the employers and the unions into the 1980s, reluctant though some may be to come along. We have given union members the right to be consulted before they put their jobs at risk by striking. The Labour party opposed giving union members the right to choose, and sometimes gives the impression that it is trying to obscure the consequences of their choice.

The dispute is also a throwback in another way. When the Government habitually intervened, in the days of beer and sandwiches at the 11th hour, both sides of industry came to believe that the Government could and would rescue them from the consequences of their actions. That belief fuelled bad industrial practices and irresponsible industrial acton. It would be damaging to recreate that atmosphere now when we have fought so hard to change it.

Last month, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary drew attention to the success of Silentnight over so many years, saying that that was because of the virtues of management and of work of the people employed in the firm. I hope that the future holds the prospect of continued profitability for the company, with all that that will mean for its employees and the local community. In our concern for those dismissed—people are concerned—we must not allow ourselves to he stampeded into any course of action that might destroy the real achievement involved in building up and establishing an important business. That achievement stems from a sense of individual responsibility, not reliance on Government, good communications over many years between management and workers, which was acknowledged in the article in The Times by the hon. Member for Blackburn, and their voluntary partnership towards a shared aim—the continued viability of the company and their jobs. That joint approach depends upon the freely given consent of employers and their employees, and not on directions laid down by Government.

Our general approach is not to intervene in particular disputes. After the debate last month, I do not wish to endorse either side's case in the unfortunate dispute that we are discussing. Our role is to seek to provide a general framework that makes for good industrial relations and minimises the danger brought about by such disputes for all concerned.

ACAS is available to conciliate and arbitrate and I understand that it has been ready to assist at any time should it be invited by both parties to do so. This is the right approach because disputes such as that at Silentnight are best resolved by the employer and the workers concerned. I regret that they have not been able to settle matters themselves without the loss of jobs and all the attendant bitterness that that produces.

7.42 pm
Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

I am also sorry that the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) is not here. I know that he has been seriously ill. I hope that he makes a complete recovery and is soon back among us. The company is in his constituency. He knows it well and was associated with it, and I wanted to ask him some questions.

I wanted to speak in the debate because from 1974 to 1979 I represented the constituency of Nelson and Colne, which is now Pendle. There is at least one of Mr. Clarke's factories in Nelson and Colne. I was well aware of Mr. Clarke's activities, particularly his political activities on behalf of the Conservative party. He was known for being anti-trade union. The last things that he wanted in his factories were trade unions. He is on record as saying that if any of his factories were unionised, he would close them. The unions had great difficulties in getting themselves established in the factories, and one must ask: was he not waiting for the chance to smash the unions and return to being a non-union company? The Minister did not address himself to that matter. If he makes any more speeches like the one he made, he will be known as the Uriah Heep of politics—

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman should know.

Mr. Hoyle

If I should know, at least I have sat at the feet of your father-in-law. I wish that you had taken a few lessons from him—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

He is not my father-in-law.

Mr. Hoyle

He is not your father-in-law, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I cannot go into your history, but I know that you have a proud record in many ways.

Unlike the previous Minister, the present Minister has not come out purely on the side of the employer. His was a more reasonable speech than that. He was not prepared to say that the company should go to arbitration, yet that followed from all that he said. He explained that ground rules have been laid down for trade unions, and they must hold a ballot before a strike. The union complied with that requirement. A ballot was held, and the ballot paper said that the union was asking permission from the members to take action leading up to strike action. The overwhelming majority of the employees supported the union. Given that the union did what the Government laid down, the least that the Minister could say to the employers, using his influence and that of his Department, was that they should go to arbitration.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. He said that the overwhelming majority of employees voted for action leading up to strike action. It is true that it was a majority of those voting, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that the number voting in favour was 301 out of the total number employed of approximately 850? In other words, it was just over one third of the total number of employees, not the overwhelming majority.

Mr. Hoyle

The figure that I have is that 540 out of 800 gave the union the mandate that it asked for. The ground rules were obeyed, but the Government still criticised the trade union. It is no wonder that one has the impression that the Government are purely anti-trade union. They are prepared to defend anti-trade union companies. That is what Mr. Clarke's company is.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoyle

I do not want to give way to too many hon. Members, but I always give way to those with knowledge of trade unions.

Mr. Thurnham

I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that, in the opinion of trade unionists who voted Conservative at the election, the Government are not anti-trade union.

Mr. Hoyle

I can only say that not as many trade unionists will be voting Tory at the next election. They have learnt their lesson from the Government's actions. I am sure that many of those in Silentnight who voted for the Conservatives will not fall into that trap again.

The company said that it had a loss over the half year, but failed to explain that it would have cost just over £200,000 to settle the employees' claim. The company can afford to pay nearly £700,000 into a trust for the Clarke family. Indeed, Mr. Clarke is one of the highest-paid company directors in the United Kingdom. The company has been built up by the work force. Surely the rewards should be spread a little more evenly, some of it going to the employees.

Those of us who visited the two factories in Sutton and Barnoldswick noticed the different attitudes of the police. In Barnoldswick, there are good relations between the strikers and the police. Indeed, the police were commended. In Sutton, a small village in Yorkshire, we saw police with dogs trying to intimidate the strikers, although it is an official strike.

I hope the Government will think again, will see the justification of the strikers' case, and will say that the way the strikers have been treated is not good enough. The unions reached agreement with the employer that there would be no redundancies and that the employees would forgo a pay increase. When there was an announcement that there were to be rendundancies, 58 workers volunteered for redundancy. That was not good enough for the company; it would have only eight of those people. What happened later? When there was a go-slow the company said that the workers had to return to work and step up productivity. The company sacked 200 workers. If that was not provocation, I do not know what is.

Why do the Government take such a one-sided attitude to the dispute? It is said by some Conservative Back Benchers that the Government are not anti-trade union. If so, why do they not prove it? For once why do they not say that the employer is wrong? Why do they not point out in the House that the dispute should go to arbitration? If they do not, one can only reach the conclusion that there is one law for Mr. Clarke and another for trade unions. That is not the way to maintain good industrial relations.

Mr. Clarke's aim seems to be to starve the workers back to work and to smash the trade union. Is that what the Government want? They should come clean. We do not want any more statements such as we have heard about a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Let us have a clear statement that the Government will tell the employer that he should go to arbitration and let an independent arbitrator decide the merits of the case.

7.51 pm
Mr. John Watson (Skipton and Ripon)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate because Silentnight is one of the most significant employers in my constituency. In January, before the dispute began, the company was providing jobs for 930 people in South Craven and West Craven. Approximately 200 of those jobs were in Sutton-in-Craven in my constituency and the remainder were at Barnoldswick, customarily referred to as Barlick for those who do not know. That town used to be in Yorkshire when I had the honour to represent it in the House.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although administrative boundaries may change, it does not mean that geographical boundaries change? Places which were in Yorkshire stay in Yorkshire. Anyone born in Barlick may still play cricket for Yorkshire.

Mr. Watson

I am tempted to follow the red herring offered by the hon. Gentleman. What he has said is correct. For certain important purposes, such as cricket, the boundaries of Yorkshire remain unchanged.

Following the vagaries of the boundary commission, Barlick finds itself in Lancashire where it is represented with distinction by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), to whom I spoke on the telephone earlier today and who will be back in his office on next Monday.

The impact of Silentnight upon the local economy in Craven has been enormous. Both Sutton and Barnoldswick have suffered from the decline of the textile trade generally since the war. In addition Barnoldswick has seen a large reduction in the number of jobs in Rolls-Royce. Craven is not a natural distribution centre for Britain, and we cannot usually offer generous regional aid, yet unemployment in Craven is no higher than the national average and it tends to be slightly lower than the regional average. In large measure that is due to the jobs provided by Silentnight.

The rise of Silentnight since 1950 has insulated the area effectively against the decline in other industries. It is illusory to believe that such growth was just a happy accident. It occurred largely because of the commercial and marketing skill of Tom Clarke. It would not have happened if the owners of the company had not declined to take any dividends until the company went public in 1973. It would not have continued if the Clarke family had not waived over £1 million worth of dividends since 1973 to support the capital base of the company.

Mr. Thurnham

My hon. Friend has spoken about the decline in the textile industry. Does not the example of Laura Ashley show that we are not short of entrepreneurs who can find growth opportunities and that there are plenty of opportunities if only people will look for them?

Mr. Watson

My hon. Friend is correct. Silentnight is an industry immediately adjacent to textiles. It has been an adequate replacement for the textile industry in my part of the country.

The dispute in the factory, uncharacteristic of the company's history, is of major concern to all in the community. I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand that my concern as a local representative is solely to try to ensure that the dispute is ended as quickly and amicably as possible. Therefore, I need to question what possible purpose can be served by the debate.

It will not have escaped the notice of the House that I am not a member of the shadow Cabinet, but few prizes need to be awarded for guessing the discussion which led to the motion being put on the Order Paper. I suspect that a sincere desire to end the dispute was probably not the most prominent factor. My guess is that instead the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) will have given it as his opinion that it is a political opportunity to embarrass the Government.

Throughout the dispute I have had the doubtful privilege of hearing a number of speeches from Opposition Members. I do not make the allegation against all of them, but upon hearing quite a few of them, I have been left with the simple conclusion that they do not like successful people, rich people and particularly rich people who are friends of the Conservative party.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question as I asked the Minister. Does he condemn what has happened? Does he condemn the approach adopted by Mr. Clarke? Does he feel it was wrong?

Mr. Watson

I am coining to the brief history of the dispute.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

We do not want the history; we want an answer.

Mr. Watson

The hon. Gentleman will have a full opportunity later to participate in the debate.

Some aspects of the management's handling of the dispute in the early stages left a considerable amount to be desired, but from the mid-point of the dispute I do not believe that such allegations can be made against the management of the company.

It is apparent that some Opposition Members like ballots for strikes which result in support for strike action; above all, they like to have an opportunity to embarrass the Government. I do not doubt that such sentiments are sincerely held, but they are unlikely to be of much constructive use in settling the dispute.

I have followed the dispute closely from the outset. As I have just acknowledged, I am forced to agree that in the early stages the management's conduct left something to be desired. The quality of communication with the employees was inadequate. Communication by management with the media was minimal. Areas of doubt were allowed to arise when positions should have been absolutely clear. However, what was very clear was the company's letter of 4 July to all employees. Similarly clear was the letter of 17 July. Those letters left the strikers in no doubt that employees who did not return to work on 22 July would be in breach of their contract and would be dismissed.

Of course, such information should have been included on the ballot paper. It was not. All credit should be given to the management for bringing that fact to the attention of its employees before the crucial date of 22 July. Originally there were 490 strikers. After 22 July there were still 350. Apparently the union had advised its members that the management was bluffing. Clearly that advice was incorrect.

Opposition Members have made clear the terms upon which they would like to see the dispute settled—all the strikers should be re-employed; a significant pay rise should be awarded; and only a small number of redundancies, all voluntary, should be allowed to take place. I honestly wonder just whose interest would be served by a settlement on those lines.

Of the 350 strikers, 100 have obtained jobs elsewhere. Presumably, they would have little interest in such a settlement. Of the 350 jobs previously filled by strikers, 200 have been filled by new employees. Many of them are now permanent.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Watson

The hon. Gentleman says, "Scabs." Having honestly taken up an offer of employment, those employees would be out on the streets—

Mr. Nellist

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that pressure has been brought on unemployed workers by local jobcentres? They were told that if they did not accept the vacancies advertised at Silentnight they would lose their dole money. I would condemn pressure being put on workers to take such jobs, and I ask them not to do so. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Government and the Minister why the jobcentres are being used as pressure points to protect that employer?

Mr. Watson

I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman can regard that as pressure. By their own hand, the employees were dismissed in July. Their jobs became vacant and were advertised. I fully understand the attitude of a jobcentre manager who says that unless someone is prepared to fill such a job eligibility for social benefit would be lost. What about the 570 Silentnight employees who are not on strike? Would their long-term interests be served by a pay award higher than the company can afford to a work force greater than it needs?

Finally—and I ask this question with care — what about the Labour party's interests? There was a rally in Barnoldswick last Saturday which was attended by 2,500 people, most of them, apparently, from outside the town. Well over 50 per cent. of the people carried the newspapers, banners, badges and insignia of the Militant Tendency. One placard stated: Tom Clarke you rich scumbag we will get you. The violence and picketing at the Sutton mill in my constituency has been alarming and dangerous to the residents of the village. For the Labour party to ally itself so closely with a cause fought with such tactics must call into question the validity of the current Labour campaign against militants within its ranks.

Industrial action against the company has not succeeded, and it is unlikely to succeed now. The most honest advice that can be given to the strikers who still sincerely hope for their jobs back is that such action can serve little further purpose. The only thing which will bring higher pay and more jobs at Silentnight is a return to the company's previous prosperity.

8.2 pm

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

I say at the outset that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support the motion. I say that because, when I make some critical comments, it may well serve me in some good stead if those around me realise that I shall be supporting the motion. There is instinctive sympathy for the underdog. Having considered the facts of the case, there is no doubt that the balance of right and justice lies with those who are on strike and out of work.

It would not be wise to follow the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) and look for ulterior motives for this motion. One of the problems of politics is having to try to avoid looking at what is in people's hearts and minds and rather to listen to what they say. If the debate is to help the position in Barnoldswick or Sutton-in-Craven, it is desperately important to take on trust what people say and not to try to look for something behind what they say.

It will not serve the cause of the people involved in the industrial dispute if Conservative Members who offer some sympathy and who criticise some of the decisions are permanently barracked by Opposition Members. That is then seen as a sign of weakness. It is difficult to see what the debate can achieve if such entrenchment continues. It will do no good for the strikers and those involved in the dispute if we merely assert that one side is totally right and one is totally wrong.

The dispute seems to illustrate, only too vividly, the antiquity of many of our industrial relations procedures and the problems that exist out in the sticks in places such as Barnoldswick and Sutton-in-Craven. This kind of dispute and problem is repeated in many parts of the country. Such disputes are outside the ordinary processes of big business and the conglomerates, which in some ways are detrimental to the processes but which can often deal with them because they have the skilled personnel.

As soon as the dispute is taken over by people who want to make something of it, the position becomes entrenched. It ceases to be a matter which can be easily bridged. The second stage is the escalation of the dispute. There are those people who wish to make something more political out of it and try to say that the dispute illustrates all that is wrong between labour and management.

Thirdly, we have the exploitation of the dispute by those who wish to make political capital out of it. That is not just true of the far Left as the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said; it is equally true of the far Right. Any suggestion that the blame is all one-sided is to the detriment of resolving all the great difficulties that exist in this microcosm of what is wrong with our industrial relations.

The dispute illustrates vividly the danger of giving party accolades to those who may appear to be temporarily successful in business. We have seen that with the Government before, with Sir Freddie Laker. We now see it with Mr. Tom Clarke. If any lesson is to be learned, it is that we should take care when giving a pat on the head to such people.

I suspect that the dispute has a history of promises that could not be kept or were not intended to be kept. There is an argument about the terms of arbitration and a refusal to refer the matter to ACAS. The Silentnight management's refusal to refer the matter to outside independent arbitration stands out. I had expected to hear from the Minister rather more positive advice to the management to refer the dispute to ACAS. Even the Minister regretted that there had been a failure to refer the matter to arbitration.

I find intolerable the antipathy to unionism shown by Mr. Tom Clarke and Silentnight's management. History has shown that it is a benefit to us as an industrial nation to have good labour relations. I am sure that the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon is aware of that from his experience of Waddingtons. We shall only have success as a nation if there are good relations with the trade unions and an acceptance of the legitimacy of having union officers inside a business to deal with the day-to-day problems that occur. I cannot accept the firm's apparent failure to accept unionism. I also find the company's lack of openness about its financial status reprehensible.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Like most people, I regret that we are debating a particular company's dispute. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could help the House by supplying some information from those who are on strike and those who have been dismissed. He speaks from somewhere in the middle. Were they led to believe that the management was not in earnest when it said that if they did not return to work they would be dismissed?

Mr. Meadowcroft

I understand from those who are on the spot and who have advised me that the workers accepted at face value what they were told about the company's financial state. They then felt themselves betrayed by the dividend paid to the family. I suspect that that was one of the factors that exacerbated the dispute substantially. The workers felt that the financial status of the company was not on the table for all to see. I suspect that that was a running sore in the dispute, which has become worse ever since.

At first I, like the Minister, pondered whether this was a proper and helpful subject for debate. If we concentrate our minds on business relationships and trade union status, we may learn lessons from the debate which will be helpful in other disputes, even if they are not constructive for the Silentnight dispute. I suspect that Tom Clarke miscalculated the consequences of his actions regarding the financial openness of the company. In saying to workers, "We must have 52 redundancies, and you must forgo a pay increase because of the company's finances," and later providing huge dividends to his family, he must have wholly misconceived how the work force would respond. That has contributed greatly to the dispute.

The matter is not entirely one-sided. A newspaper report states: There was never any trouble until they got the union in. The strikers will tell you that. That comes from 7 Days, which is a new Communist party newspaper. It was prepared to say that, and to examine the dispute carefully. The most balanced account of the dispute may well come from that newspaper. It is important to recognise that the matter is not one-sided, and that there are problems across the company floor. [Interruption.] I paused for response because it was bound to come.

What will happen now? How can the dispute be resolved? I share the anxiety of the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon that it is not sensible to threaten to sack the new workers. One may call them names, say that they should not have accepted the jobs in the first place, or refer to the duress that they were under, but the solution to the dispute is not to sack those who have now been employed permanently. We should also bear in mind that a significant number of those who were originally on strike have found new jobs.

It is desperately important that both sides of the House should unite on one view, if on no other: we should recommend Tom Clarke and the management to refer the dispute openly and without strings to ACAS. The problem has been exacerbated, but one way to heal the rift may be to recommend that course of action.

We should learn that such conflicts benefit no one. Three hundred and fifty-two people have lost their jobs, and the profits of the company have turned to losses. No one has benefited. It is dangerous to believe that we can resolve such problems by legislation alone. I do not believe that we can pass laws which ensure good relations between management and the work force and change people's hearts and minds. Those in managenent must take workers into their confidence, and workers must trust management and be prepared to accept that they have a joint relationship which works co-operatively rather than adversarily. If we learn that lesson from the debate, we shall have learnt a great deal.

8.13 pm
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

During the past few months there have been many questions and early-day motions on the Order Paper on this subject, and we recently had an Adjournment debate about it. I am appalled at the way in which Silentnight or any other company, and Mr. Tom Clarke or any other family, can be and have been attacked recently. Some Labour Members have used the dispute to make attacks on a company and individuals who have absolutely no means of replying effectively.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the hon. Lady declare her interest?

Mrs. Peacock

I shall declare my interest in a moment.

I am also appalled that such attacks on a company can be made in the House, whatever the issue. Such action cannot be helpful either to the company or to those who have lost their jobs.

It is disgraceful that hon. Members should make attacks on members of a family who are not involved in the company. They may be shareholders, but they are not directors, with the exception of Mr. Tom Clarke. The members of the Clarke family cannot defend themselves. As Members of the House of Commons we may from time to time wish to take up issues on the affairs of a particular company or an individual, but we should not attack members of a family who are not directly involved in the issue.

At this stage I shall declare my interest. I have a Silentnight company in my constituency called Lay E Zee which has a large factory in Batley, I am the National Bedding Federation parliamentary consultant, and a small shareholder in Silentnight. I have not met Mr. Clarke or any member of his family during the past 40 years.

Mr. Nellist

Did the hon. Lady say that she was the parliamentary adviser to the National Bedding Federation, and that she has not met Mr. Tom Clarke for more than 40 years? Is it not a fact that Silentnight is the biggest single member of the National Bedding Federation? What sort of job is she doing on its behalf if she has not visited its largest company?

Mrs. Peacock

I have not met Mr. Clarke or his family for the past 40 years, and I have contact with the National Bedding Federation.

I am in a unique position in the House. Forty years ago, as a seven-year-old schoolgirl, I used to pass Mr. Tom Clarke and his wife in his corner shop repairing mattresses. He lived in a small, humble district of Skipton, which is where his large business started. I remind Labour Members that they do not hold the monopoly for humble beginnings. Many Conservative Members and company chairmen know only too well the problems and tribulations of a shaky start in life.

Mr. Clarke may have been lucky, and he may have been in the right business at the right time, but he is an entrepreneur, who for many years has been able to back his judgment and build up a good, thriving business. Hon. Members should not forget that he had to work hard during those 40 years. An analysis of how the business has been built up shows clearly that it can be attributed to his entrepreneurial flair, and, more important, the willingness of the Clarke family to leave their money in the business year after year.

I do not intend to get involved in the rights or wrongs of the dispute. However, I wish to point out that 700 people at the firm are working hard to complete full order books and to put it back on profit before the end of the financial year.

There have been accusations that no pay rise was forthcoming and that the family shareholders received £700,000 in dividends. That is not correct. For the trading year 1984, workers at Silentnight received a 5.5 per cent. pay increase, or £5.25 across the board per week. In that period the interim dividend was 1p per share. The final dividend for that year was 1.75p per share, which makes a total dividend during that period of 2.75p per share. That was not an increase on the dividend paid the previous year, and it is hardly a great killing for investors. For the year 1985, while an increase in minimum rates of pay was agreed, no interim dividend will be paid. That is hardly a massive payout for the small investor. We need to invest in our manufacturing base.

It is interesting to note that Silentnight merchandise is today sold at prices similar to those in 1979, and that is hardly a massive increase of profit. Hence the need for product innovation and strengthening of the market.

It is also quite useful to note that any increases in minimum rates of pay do not automatically trigger off other increases. The Silentnight factory at Barnoldswick appears to be the only major company on the two sites that has had problems in this matter, even though it stance is in line with that of other manufacturers.

We must all have sympathy with those who were on strike and have lost their jobs. That cannot be wished on any individual or his family.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I ask the hon. Lady the question that I have asked two previous Tory speakers. Does she condemn the management for what it has done? Does she believe that what it has done is in any way wrong, or does she support it? The National Bedding Federation has a number of members, and many of Silentnight's competitors have condemned what has happened.

Mrs. Peacock

As my hon. Friends have said, the hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity to take part in the debate.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What is the hon. Lady's position?

Mrs. Peacock

The important point to me is that this business exists at all and—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What is the hon. Lady's view?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not keep shouting questions from a sedentary position.

Mrs. Peacock

The business has developed over the past 40 years to provide employment.

I know Barnoldswick and Sutton-in-Craven well and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) said, Silentnight has created jobs in an area that has seen a decline in the textile industry. Silentnight has grown over the years and provided employment for people in areas that badly need employment.

We should not forget that the main reason for the growth of Silentnight is that the Clarke family has had faith in the bedding industry, in the marvellous work force in the districts, and in the company, and has left its money in the business. I would go so far as to suggest that over the years the family could have sold those shares to an investment company in the City and lived a life of ease and luxury, but it did not do so. It chose to invest in the local work force.

It is grossly unfair of Labour Members to attack a family in this way when its members cannot reply. It might interest the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to know that the National Bedding Federation was not aware of the debate taking place and no approach was made to me. Britain depends on entrepreneurs for our manufacturing industry and we need those who are prepared to work hard and to develop the business and jobs. The sooner that Labour Members get that into their heads, the better.

8.22 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

We should make it clear that Labour Members have good reasons for wanting to raise this issue. Unlike Liberal Members, we are not in a quandary as to what to do at the end of the debate.

Mr. Meadowcroft

I am not in a quandary.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman is already intervening. I can tolerate the heckling, although his hon. Friends do not like it. He seems to spend his time hiding away from the leader of the SDP, reading Communist literature and finding himself unable to speak clearly on behalf of a group of workers who, in the main, are on low pay.

The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) said that he could not understand why the Labour party had tabled this motion for debate. There are several reasons for this. In the first place, we are dealing with an area of Yorkshire and an area in Lancashire that are, by and large, areas of high unemployment. When we talk about the real issues in Britain today, we cannot avoid talking about the misery of the dole queue. These two factors, in areas where hitherto there were many textile mills and other forms of employment, are now experiencing a factory owner who is exploiting the situation. As there is high unemployment, especially among the Asians, he is carrying out the Thatcherite policy right down to the letter.

Secondly, we are concerned because, as these are areas of high unemployment, the almost natural corollary is that they are areas of low pay. The Labour party has to be seen, even if the Liberal party is not, to make it plain to the rest of Britain that we are concerned about those people who are not getting £170 a week as average wages—that is the figure that is usually trotted out by the Treasury Bench—but about people who have difficulty in making ends meet even when they are in work.

The third good reason why we should argue that it is proper and right for a debate to take place on this subject is that these workers have carried out trade union legislation to the letter. The Under-Secretary of State for Employment claims on most subjects to be a wet, and he did not know how to disguise that fact when he made his opening speech. He now shakes his head to say that the unions did not carry out the legislation to the letter. I can tell him that the unions have carried out the letter of the law much better than some of his friends in Johnson Matthey plc, including his relatives.

The unions have carried out the law to the letter and they have been penalised for holding a ballot. If any trade unionist should be listening to the debate or reads our words in Hansard, I suggest that if he should ever want to strike, and carry out the Tory legislation to the letter and have ballots, the chances are that the Prime Minister and all those on the Treasury Bench will trample him and his union into the ground just the same.

The Government will call on one of their Mr. Wonderfuls. Mr. Clarke happens to be an example of this, Eddie Shah was another—the Prime Minister used to meet him after conferences. She thinks well of those in charge of Grunwick, and of Freddie Laker and of all the others. She has a champion in the United States—she is about the only woman in Britain who has the nerve to call Ronald Reagan her champion, but he represents values similar to those set out by Mr. Clarke. They are the values of a philosophy that is already dead—the idea that somehow or another monetarism is working. The Government back Mr. Clarke because he is one of that dying breed that is trying to give the impression that it is possible to operate market forces and to use workers like pawns on the chessboard.

Mr. Watson

This dead and buried philosophy has provided 930 jobs in my constituency over the past 25 years. What would the hon. Gentleman have put in their place?

Mr. Skinner

Many people in similar occupations are having difficulty in using their ability to bargain. They are also representing their case because while they are allowed to join the trade union under the Tory party legislation, with wages policies based on the mass reservoir of unemployment, the Prime Minister and the Government are saying, "We will give you the freedom to join a trade union, but, by God, do not exercise any power when you have done so." That is why the hon. Gentleman has to toe the Prime Minister's line. He has no choice because if he does not he is out on his neck.

We are proud to be able to represent these workers, because it is a small union. It is not one of the giants but a little union, the membership of which consists of a few people producing furniture. It would like to have many more members, but while the Conservative Government have been in power, factories have been closed all over the country. That does not mean that the Labour party will not support that union, however small it may be. Even if the Liberal party does not know where it stands, the Labour party knows that it has a duty to tell people that this small union, which has members on low pay in an area of high unemployment, has a right to be heard in Parliament.

That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) moved an Adjournment debate on this matter a few weeks ago. He was castigated by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. That is why this dispute is being raised twice in the course of a few weeks. The Labour party wants this dispute to be known about by the electorate.

At Barnoldswick on Saturday last I had one of the most pleasant surprises of my life. I have taken part in most demonstrations in Britain. On Saturday last 5,000 people invaded that little town. It was a pleasure to see them. They came from every part of Britain, including Tory marginal constituencies. They recognised the values that I have tried to explain. The demonstration at Barnoldswick had not been greatly advertised. I had not been billed as a speaker; if I had, there would have been 10,000 demonstrators. It was wonderful to see those people at Barnoldswick. The few people who were still out on strike after 26 weeks probably thought before last Saturday that they were on their own and that they were isolated. However, hordes of people from the trade union Labour movement made their way to Barnoldswick to take part in that demonstration. They recognise what this dispute is all about. That is why we must maximise our vote this evening.

We want this matter to be raised outside Parliament. We want the British people who have not yet heard about this 26-week strike to know all about it. However, although hon. Members are not supposed to talk about it, there are some absentees from the press gallery. I can see only three or four members of the press up there. The role of the media is despicable. It supports the Tory Government in all industrial disputes. Its role in supporting the Tory Government over this dispute is even more despicable. There is the classic ingredient of small Davids fighting a mighty Goliath who put £700,000 into his own pocket but who refused to hand out about £200,000 for a wage increase.

The Under-Secretary of State said at the beginning of the debate that the Government will wipe their hands of this affair and will have nothing to do with it. The Government say that they do not interfere in disputes of this kind. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shorditch (Mr. Sedgemore) is in the Chamber. He knows that the Government interfere when it suits them. The Government say that they do not interfere in the industrial economy, although they are smashing it to smithereens. However, when it comes to bailing out banks like Johnson Matthey the Government do not need to put down amendments. They say to the Treasury, to the Bank of England, and to all those who represent their values, "Go and bail out that bank. It's in trouble." Then someone asks, "Is Johnson Matthey a pit? If it is, close it." But the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, "No, I think it is a bank." So the Prime Minister says, "Save it. Even if it is an uneconomic unit of production, it does not matter; save it. Even though it has no reserves, like a pit, save it." The Under-Secretary of State has had the cheek to come to Parliament, to slobber all over the Treasury Bench and give the impression that this Government do not interfere. But they interfere when it suits them. They used £1 million of taxpayers' money to bail out Johnson Matthey, but they do not have the guts to intervene in this dispute and treat these families decently before Christmas.

Mr. Bottomley

Does the hon. Gentleman say that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service was set up to do what the Government told it to do, or does he believe what his right hon. Friend the Member for Blenaeu, Gwent (Mr. Foot) said: that it ought to do its work at the request of the employers and the unions concerned?

Mr. Skinner

If this Minister had the guts—he has not—he would see to it that a call was put through to ACAS to ensure that three or four weeks before Christmas something is done about workers who have been on low pay for donkeys' years and who have now been on strike for 26 weeks. Little kids are involved. Some would call it child abuse by Mr. Clarke and this Government. He would ask ACAS what it was going to do about it. He could say to ACAS that it has a machinery and an appeal procedure. When Johnson Matthey asked for help because all its money and all the Caribbean holidays had gone, the Government stepped in and bailed it out by using taxpayers' money.

We are not asking the Government to use taxpayers' money on this occasion? We are asking them to do the moral and decent thing: to give these families a chance before Christmas. The Prime Minister sheds no tears for them. This woman, who is supposed to be the architect of the family unit, is not bothered about all the little toddlers whom I saw in Barnoldswick on Saturday. There are no tears and no sweets for them at Christmas. The Labour party will put that right.

One of the reasons for the debate is to highlight this matter for the nation. We want to ensure that each of those families, notwithstanding what the Government and Mr. Clarke have done is fed—not just at Christmas but until this dispute has reached a decent and honourable conclusion. It is only three months since the Government found £350 million of taxpayers' money to bail out the Export Credit Guarantees Department which had been fiddling for donkeys' years. I do not say that under privilege; I have said it outside Parliament and I shall repeat it there.

This Government have the cheek to say that they do not intervene. A few weeks ago they bailed out the European Community with £252 million of taxpayers' money. There is a litany of Government intervention over many years, using taxpayers' money to do so. We are not asking the Government for money. This dispute is about wages. The Government showed their hand when these people went on strike. They were forced into it. This Government marched their troops through the Lobby to give an average increase of 17 per cent. to all those who are on top salaries, but it was impossible for £200,000 to be allocated between about 800 workers.

The Government talk about freedom. They have hijacked the word. There should be freedom for those who work in these two factories. They have done everything according to the law, yet they have been kicked and battered by their employer, with the connivance of the Government. This is the latest example of the Government's attack upon the trade union movement. Their treatment of the workers at GCHQ was bad enough, but the mineworkers and many others have suffered under this Government.

I call upon hon. Members and those outside Parliament to recognise this dispute. I call upon the trade union movement to take action and to feed these families. I call upon every local authority that is under Labour control to black all the firms that go through the gates of that factory. There are plenty of them. There must be a commitment that a future Labour Government will stop the grants that are given to Mr. Tom Clarke. I bet some other bedding manufacturers would not be altogether unhappy if they heard that.

Yes, we must be selective, like Mr. MacGregor. If the other side can be selective, what is wrong with us doing the same? Yes, 26 weeks is a long time in a family's life with a little union to support them. The Minister can do a job for himself today if he wants. He can be smart and clever. He can just hope that the vote will be successful so that he can move on to another day and the matter can be forgotten, or he can do something decent for a change. He can get on the phone tomorrow morning and speak to the people at ACAS. He can say that there is an opportunity. He can tell them to settle the dispute before Christmas. He would not be intervening in any great way if he did so. He would just be acting decently for a change. Why does he not do it? He should act like a Minister instead of acting like the Prime Minister's puppet.

8.40 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

I do not speak as a constituency representative of any of the workers involved in the dispute, but I met and had discussions with the leaders of the strike committee a couple of months ago and I have followed the weekly reports in Militant which contained interviews with strikers and regular details of the problems that they are facing.

The immediate cause of the dispute was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). It was the management's refusal to honour an undertaking on redundancies and the refusal to give a rise on basic rates for piecework. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), who speaks in the House on behalf of the National Bedding Federation, said that the workers had been given a £1.25 pay rise. It is because they were offered only 55p as opposed to £1–25 that a work to rule was begun in June. If the hon. Lady worked out the cost of 700 workers in Silentnight receiving £1.25 a week, she would arrive at the figure of £210,000 to which many Labour hon. Members have referred.

Twelve months ago the management at Silentnight sacked 88 workers. At the beginning of this year it gave a guarantee that if the work force postponed for three to four months the acceptance of a wage rise there would be no further redundancies. That guarantee was broken in the summer.

Despite attempts by Tory Members to portray the opposite, the work force is not naturally inclined to militancy. Most of the workers at Silentnight said that before the start of the dispute they voted Tory in the general election. They formed the union branch only 21 months ago, in February last year, after successive annual cuts in their wages. Many of those sacked had worked in the firm for more than 10 years. Many had worked there for between 20 and 25 years. One worker, Trevor King, has worked there for 27 years. Only a few weeks ago he was rewarded for his loyalty to the firm by being presented by the management with a tankard. He sent the tankard back. The last thing that he wanted after 27 years of loyalty to a firm was to be insulted with a tankard when he and his colleagues were forced into the street by a strike to defend their wages and working conditions. That was the attitude of workers before the strike, but those attitudes are very different now.

The workers have taken up all the constitutional alternatives on offer. They have had a secret ballot which produced a majority of 151 in favour of a work to rule—354 in favour and 203 against. On 22 July Clarke responded by sacking over 500 workers. ACAS was involved, but there seems to be no sign that the management intends to climb down.

In addition to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), there is another little message that we should like to send from the House of Commons to the management of Silentnight. The dispute has widespread support among working-class people and their families throughout Britain. Reference has already been made to the 5,000 people who supported the workers in Barnoldswick on Saturday 30 November in a march and demonstration. On that occasion the regional organiser of the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union, Mr. David Marshall, was attacked and injured by two men with sticks. Had that been an attack on a member of management by pickets, the Press Gallery would have been full of people looking for quotes from Tory Members about violence and intimidation, yet nowt is being said about that attack on Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Waller

Emotions have run high in the dispute, but I condemn any attack on a trade union leader or member by anybody. Will the hon. Gentleman also condemn the well-documented cases of strikers having attacked people who have been at work? Will he do that without leaving any room for doubt?

Mr. Nellist

When the hon. Gentleman makes his speech—

Mr. Waller


Mr. Nellist

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question. At least he should allow me to use my own words to answer it rather than the ones that he wishes to put in my mouth. When the hon. Gentleman makes his speech, he can bring forward any information or allegations that he wishes to present and they can be the subject of debate. I have raised the documented question of an attack on a regional full-time official of the trade union and put forward the perfectly proper argument, having sat through all the debates on the miners' dispute, that if it had been a picket attacking a manager, the Press Gallery and Tory Benches would have been full and there would have been talk of violence and intimidation. Instead there has been silence on the attack on Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Waller


Mr. Nellist

I shall move on now in order to allow the hon. Gentleman time to make his own contribution.

On Saturday 30 November, 5,000 people marched in support of the Silentnight work force. Many earlier demonstrations had taken place beginning with a demonstration of 1,000 workers on 27 July.

As has been said, during the dispute many unemployed workers in the area have apparently been told that their dole will be stopped if they turn down one of the 500 jobs now being classed as vacant at Silentnight. When the Minister replies, he should say whether that has Government approval. Are the jobcentres being turned into Government organisations for scab labour to break official trade union disputes? If he were to say that, Labour Members would not be unduly surprised. That is precisely the role of the mass unemployment which the Government have planned over the past six years. It is a political weapon to cow the mood and morale of trade unionists in order to attempt to force them to accept drops in their living standards. Another reason why we would not be surprised is the clear link between the Government and the Tory management of the firm.

We have already heard how the chairman of the firm, Mr. Tom Clarke, when visited in 1983 by the Prime Minister, was described by her as "My Mr. Wonderful". I can imagine why that would be. Anybody who can amass a personal fortune of between £50 million and £60 million and then refuse to pay workers a decent pay rise would be described in that way by the Prime Minister. It is no surprise to hear that she said that Britain needs hundreds of Tom Clarkes. That is precisely the Victorian attitude that she tries to develop in Britain—screwing everything out of workers and being hell bent on attempting to smash trade unions. It is the old idea of the master sitting at the table and the workers begging at the gate.

That is the sort of attitude that the Prime Minister, the Government and Mr. Tom Clarke would like to bring back. Hon. Members may think that that is a little sharp or excessive, but why have the dividends remained at the £1.2 million which were distributed last year to the shareholders of Silentnight? More than half went to the company called Famco whose shareholders are Tom Clarke, with 766,255 shares; Joan Clarke, Tom's wife, with 349,000 shares; Peter Clarke, Tom's son, with 183,000 shares; John Clarke, Tom's son, with 174,000 shares; and Mrs. J. Burns, Tom's daughter, with 124,000 shares.

The total dividend, at £644,771, was three times the amount that it would have cost to honour the wage agreement that the parliamentary spokesman for the National Bedding Federation has assured the House was on offer to all the workers of Silentnight. One third of the family dividend would not only have made sure that the dispute would not have occurred, but would have given the workers what their parliamentary representative said was on offer to them.

Mrs. Peacock

If the hon. Gentleman will check in Hansard tomorrow the statement that I made, he will see that I said that the 1984 rise was 5.5 per cent., or £5.25 across the board, and that the dividends announced in February and July of this year applied to trading in 1984.

Mr. Nellist

That is right. The dividend announced in February of this year was £1.2 million, over half of which went to members of the Clarke family. As I said, one third of that would have paid all 700 workers at Silentnight the wage claim for 1985 of £5.25 that they had been told was on offer.

Another connection should be mentioned, and I appreciate that the hon. Member for the area, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) is in hospital. I understand from reports on television and in the Daily Mirror that he has 2,000 shares in the company. Perhaps through the columns of Hansard I may ask the same question that has been asked of all Conservative Members who have taken part in the debate: does the hon. Member for Pendle approve of the actions of the management of Silentnight? Does he intend to divest himself of those 2,000 shares, or does he intend to profit from the sacrifice and upset of the families of the workers at Silentnight?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Give the money back.

Mr. Nellist

The hon. Member for Pendle had a preface, as it were, to the dispute that we are discussing in that in 1979 he received a letter from the then joint group managing director of Silentnight. The management was asking the hon. Member for Pendle whether he would support the urgency of withdrawing payments from the families of strikers. The managing director said in a letter to the hon. Member for Pendle: The Conservative Government is bound to have some problems with the unions, if only out of bloody-mindedness, and a lack of finance available to the families of the moderates would help stiffen their resolve to get back to work and influence the militants. From a strategic point of view, this particular move could very well be taken earlier rather than later. One should not be accused of being paranoic in thinking that perhaps the management of Silentnight, in conjunction with the local Tory MP, was planning in advance to attack the conditions of workers in that firm and was planning in advance for the financial and political support that it would need from the present Tory Government to make sure that penalising the workers on strike would be such that they would be forced through starvation back to work.

The hon. Member for Pendle replied that he thought that the management of Silentnight was "absolutely right" and added: We must get through our more controversial legislation in the early stages of this Parliament. My impression at the present time is that we are going very cautiously on the whole trade union front, but I take your point about withdrawal of payments to the families of strikers. There was a clear implication there that the Tory management of the firm and the local Tory MP were for several years preparing to attack the work force of Silentnight, making sure that legislation to penalise the families of workers forced into such action went through.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

Do I take it from my hon. Friend's remarks that the Conservative Member for the area is in receipt of 2,000 shares? If that Tory Member is a junior Minister, my hon. Friend is making an extremely serious accusation, one that w ill have to be looked into.

Mr. Nellist

I believe that it would be outside the bounds of order for me to comment on such an allegation; perhaps a breach of procedure would be involved. I understand that the hon. Gentleman in question has 2,000 shares in the company. That has been reported on television and a statement to that effect appeared in the Daily Mirror six weeks ago. He has not renounced either the shares or the accusation that he owns them.

I do not know what the benchmark or bottom line is in relation to recording those shares in the Register of Members' Interests. When I looked in the Library this evening, they were not mentioned in that document. Perhaps it is for the registrar of that register to contact the hon. Member concerned.

Mr. Watson

To clear the name of the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), it is perhaps necessary for me to point out that he indeed owns 2,000 shares in the company concerned but that he bought them personally, that he bought those shares before he became the Member for the constituency concerned, that he was not given the shares, as has been implied, and that the implication of what the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is saying is that no Member of Parliament should ever hold shares in any constituency company, nor should he reply to any correspondence that he may receive from such companies.

Mr. Nellist

Being a relatively new entrant to this place, it was clearly not I who set the rules applying to Ministers and shareholdings. Those rules were set long before I got here. However, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson) for confirming that the hon. Member for Pendle has 2,000 Silentnight shares, as was reported in the Daily Mirror.

The Silentnight strike is now official. It also has the backing of the TUC conference in September, and I look for increased support from TUC-affiliated unions to aid those workers. The management attitude is not only hardening the attitude of many Silentnight workers. I notice that 70 production workers at Lay E Zee, the firm in West Yorkshire to which reference has been made, a subsidiary of Silentnight—previously a non-union firm—have now joined the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union because of the attacks on their brothers and sisters at Silentnight.

Mrs. Peacock


Mr. Nellist

I will not give way because I wish to complete my remarks.

Enormous support is being generated throughout the country as a result of strikers travelling to factories, trade union meetings generally and Labour party meetings. Rochdale Labour party raised £1,000 in the first three months of the dispute for Silentnight strikers and their families, and many thousands of pounds have been raised in collections elsewhere.

Crucially, this dispute is not just about money. I agreed wholeheartedly with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. Indeed, I had intended to spend the last few minutes of my contribution making a similar appeal for the collection of toys for the kids at Christmas and for clothes and money for the families of the strikers at Silentnight.

But, with respect to my hon. Friend—though I support him wholeheartedly—he will agree that all the mechanisms for keeping the strike going, honourable though they are, in the final analysis are less important than increased industrial support to end the strike as soon as possible with victory for the work force.

With that in mind, I am pleased to report that not only dockers at a number of ports, such as Hartlepool, are questioning the timber imports for Silentnight from Sweden, and not only are most drivers who have crossed the picket lines non-union—the company is spending a fortune hiring one-man operated hired vans from as far away as Aberdeen and Stevenage—but the strike is now affecting the share price of the company. A few weeks ago it went down to 29p.

With all the publicity in the past few weeks about that fellow T. Boone Pickens from across the water and the corporate raiders and sharks, it occurs to me that the lower the share price of Silentnight, the more attractive the company may become to some City financiers. They may say, "This bloke Clarke is running what would otherwise be a reasonably good company. Why do we not take advantage of the driving down of the share price, take the firm over, sack the scabs, re-employ the workers and return to the profits that the firm has made in the past?" That is a tempting proposition for some of the City sharks.

From February to August of this year the company has lost £820,000 compared with a profit of £1.1 million in a similar period last year. The Silentnight management is devastating the company.

The dispute will be won. I spoke of national support, but there is more than that. Manchester north-west region and the Royal Arsenal Co-op—the co-ops are the biggest customers of Silentnight—and most of the co-op associations have already blacked Silentnight beds. I hope that the many local Labour parties will contact their co-ops to ensure that similar resolutions are passed.

Discussions on the dispute take place not only nationally, but internationally. During the past 10 days, the Sri Lankan trade unions have been discussing the need to black the fibre essential for the production of Silentnight beds. Dockers in Sweden have agreed to black timber. Today, I heard that Bekaert, a major multinational in Belgium, following approaches from its trade union organisation, agreed during the weekend to stop supplying Silentnight with its important mattress ticking. The trade union movement is gearing up, not only nationally, but internationally. Workers are coming to the support of the families of Silentnight. The more effective the blacking, the sooner the strike will end.

I appeal to those listening and to those who will read the debate in the columns of Hansard not to allow to fail the sacrifice of the hundreds of families who are fighting a classic example of a Victorian stalwart employer. Adopt a family in the run-up to Christmas. Send money, clothes and toys. Crucially, trade union solidarity from the Transport and General Workers Union and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers is needed to bring this Tory-supporting gaffer, clone of Ian MacGregor, to his knees. Tom Clarke is not a fit steward to run a company such as Silentnight. He cares nothing for the workers of the company. For him, profit is god.

The workers of Silentnight have created the wealth in the company. The Clarke family converts that wealth into the dividends that they receive from their share ownership. The Clarkes are filching the wealth that the workers of Silentnight create. Labour unreservedly supports those workers in their struggle against that management.

9.2 pm

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

It has been said that we should not be having this debate tonight, but I do not accept that. It is important that this issue should be debated again. I regret the fact that the matter needs to be debated, because I would have hoped that the Government would have taken action to try to get both sides together to resolve the dispute. Our main concern is the position of the 346 strikers and their families. We wish to see them back at work, reinstated, and an acceptable resolution of the dispute.

With Tom Clarke as chairman of the company, there will be no resolution of the dispute unless pressure is brought to bear and someone decides that action has to be taken. We do not accept that the Government cannot intervene. We do not accept the view that they should not say to ACAS, "Try to get both sides together and resolve the dispute."

We must remember that one company within the group has received Government assistance. That highlights the fact that the Government will give financial assistance to companies without asking how those companies use it. A few weeks ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told me: Information about some of the grants made by the Department is published quarterly in 'British Business'. For reasons of commercial confidentiality, it is not the usual practice to give any further information about grants to particular companies. 'British Business' of 22 June 1983 recorded an offer of regional selective assistance of £350,000 to Lay E Zee Ltd., a subsidiary of Silentnight Holdings."—[Official Report, 29 October 1985, Vol. 84. c. 462.] The answer implies that that is not necessarily the entire picture and that other grants may have been paid to the company which the Minister is not prepared to disclose.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) mentioned an article in 7 Days, which stated that the strikers claimed that there had been no problem before the union became involved—

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Where is he now?

Mr. Pike

As my hon. Friend says, there is no Liberal or SDP Member in the Chamber. That is not unusual when important matters are being debated.

The article in The Guardian last Friday made it clear that a major reason for the growth of trade union membership was that there were problems before the trade union became involved. The workers at those factories could not take action to resolve those problems, and the membership increased rom 28 to 500 in 1984, when there was a two-week strike over that year's pay settlement. I know for a fact that there have been problems on that site for many years. Indeed, a common feature of each annual pay increase has been that part of the increase was immediately recouped by setting new piece rates and time rates. With many trade unionists, I believe that, if we accept pay rises, they should be consolidated and fully effective on all elements of pay settlements. When I have been involved in negotiations, I have never been happy about increasing some elements of pay but saying that the increase does not apply to others.

Whether the Minister likes it or not, the ballot slip showed clearly that it related to the 1985 pay settlement. Although management and the unions may have different views on that, it is clear that that is what the dispute is about.

Several initiatives have been taken to resolve the dispute. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition tried to involve ACAS through my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. A few weeks ago, the trade union members at Silentnight met Labour Members, following which a letter was sent to the Prime Minister on 13 November asking her to meet a delegation of hon. Members to discuss the problem at Silentnight and hoping that she would recognise the problem, try to influence matters and get both sides together. It is remarkable that the only reply that they have received to date has been from the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary. It states: In the Prime Minister's absence from the office, I am writing on her behalf to acknowledge your letter of 13 November which I will bring to her attention as soon as possible. That is disgraceful. We need some action to get matters resolved.

Mr. Waller

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that efforts made before this Government were elected to resolve disputes by calling in the parties to No. 10 Downing street proved notably successful, or does he accept that, since that policy was abandoned, we have had fewer disputes and they have been resolved far more quickly?

Mr. Pike

There have been fewer disputes under this Government because, since 1979, when the Tories defeated the Labour Government on a platform of returning to free collective bargaining and the removal of pay policies, they have used the worst possible weapon against the British working people—unemployment.

I was a trade unionist and I worked in a factory until 1983. I worked shifts, so I know what factory workers think and I appreciate their situation. At Silentnight, 346 workers are out on strike. The Opposition want to remedy that unacceptable situation.

In the Adjournment debate on 6 November, the Government chose the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier) to reply. I do not know why they chose him as the matter seems to be within the brief of the Minister dealing with the matter today, who was in the House on that day and could presumably have replied to that debate. I can only assume that the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen was chosen to reply in an attempt to influence the political situation in north-east Lancashire—an attempt which failed, because the response from the Minister was appalling and the debate did not have the desired result. The Minister's reply to that debate was extremely provocative and in no way conciliatory. Reference has already been made to the comments about it in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph later that week.

A large part of the Minister's reply on that occasion was based on a Silentnight press release issued the previous week. The Minister denied that, but I had a copy with me and could have quoted word for word certain sections of his speech. The Minister was provoked at one stage to say that most of his information came from ACAS, but I am sure that ACAS would wish to dissociate itself from a large part of what he said.

In his reply to that debate the Minister said: I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Burnley said at the outset of his speech. It is with genuine sadness that I and he has raised this Adjournment debate at a time when my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who knows more about the background to the strike than the hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for Blackburn will ever know, is in a hospital bed recovering from a serious operation."—[Official Report, 6 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 105.] In opening that Adjournment debate, I extended my good wishes to the Minister in hospital. We all regret that he is still ill. We hope to see him back in the House soon, but in all honesty I must say that it is absolute nonsense to allow the fate of the Silentnight strikers to await his return. On that basis, I could argue that because my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is now in hospital recovering from a minor operation we should not have had the debate today as I know how much he would have wished to participate. North-east Lancashire seems to be a distress area for hon. Members, as the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) is also out of action. I am sure that the whole House hopes that all three hon. Members will soon return.

I cannot accept that the Under Secretary of State for Defence Procurement knows more than my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn or myself about the dispute. I am prepared to accept that he may know more about Silentnight's position in the dispute than either myself or my hon. Friend, but that would not be surprising as he is a shareholder in the company and has been a paid consultant for the industry in the House. If the hon. Gentleman was earning his money as consultant to the industry, it is only reasonable to assume that he would have had some knowledge of the industry. In my view, however, he has no idea whatever about the position of the trade union in the dispute. He has made no effort to meet the trade unionists or to do anything on their behalf. Very early in the dispute, he met Tom Clarke on behalf of the union, but when he came back he simply shrugged his shoulders and said that it was not possible to make any progress. If a member of the Conservative party who has a close relationship with the chairman of the company cannot make any progress, one realises the difficulties involved.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In many Conservative associations in the Lancashire area—especially in Bury, Bolton, Rossendale, Hyndburn, Accrington, Blackburn, Burnley, Todmorden and Sowerby—members are divided about the Government's attitude to the dispute. Many believe that the Government should intervene. They will be studying the Hansard report of today's debate because they were expecting condemnation from their Members of Parliament, some of whom are present, and from the Minister. The Minister may indeed already have expressed that condemnation in his earlier remarks.

Mr. Pike

I agree with my hon. Friend. Members of the trade union who were at Burnley town centre collecting for the strikers confirmed that many Conservatives had made donations. Conservatives are probably telling their local Members of Parliament they they are already likely to have great difficulty holding their seats at the next general election because Labour will almost certainly win Pendle, Hyndburn, Rossendale and the rest, but that if the Government do not change their line on the dispute and try to achieve a sensible solution it will be a waste of time to fight the next general election at all.

Even if the Government fail to take any action to resolve the dispute, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) and the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson), who was present earlier in the debate, could have approached Tom Clarke and tried to act as intermediaries if they were genuinely concerned about their constituents, who have now been on strike for nearly six months. During an extremely difficult strike at a factory in my constituency just after the general election in 1983 I was asked by the union to act as an intermediary. Although I clearly had some relationship with the trade union side, I was able to go back and forth between the two sides and within a week we achieved a compromise package. I do not deny that certain people on both sides were not fully satisfied with the agreement. Nevertheless, the package was accepted and the dispute was resolved. In the present dispute, the two Members of Parliament do not have that relationship with the trade union but they have a relationship with the management. If they were truly concerned about their constituents they would have tried to bring the two sides together to resolve the dispute.

We have been told on several occasions that to settle the pay claim in full would cost between £205,000 and £215,000 in a full year. Yet the family took £644,000 in dividends. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) may say that that is irrelevant, but it is impossible to claim to trade unionists that their pay claim cannot be met when such massive dividends are taken by shareholders.

Mr. Nellist

The dividends taken by the family amount to three times the sum needed to settle the dispute. Yet the family, in the shape of Tom Clarke, claims that it cannot afford to meet the pay claim. Tom Clarke and his family have a personal fortune of between £50 million and £60 million. Is it not rather odd for a managing director to claim that he cannot afford to pay the workers when he has that amount of money himself?

Mr. Pike

That is exactly the point that I intended to make. We accept that Tom Clarke, his family and the family trust own 52 per cent. of the company as well as having massive capital wealth. It is amazing that they can say they cannot afford to pay out the full settlement that was claimed in this dispute.

We accept that the profits of the company, in the results published to May of this year, show a pre-tax profit of £2.233 million which was down on the previous year's figure of £5.239 million. I accept that, at the present, it is losing money but the management has to accept responsibility for its present position. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon referred to the fact that dividends were not paid from 1945 to 1972. That is irrelevant and misleading, because the company's structure as it is now did not come into being until 1973. To judge whether the hon. Gentleman's statement is fair we would have to analyse what payments were made within a personal capacity prior to that date. We do not believe that the company paid £60 million since 1973—the money has been accumulated over many years. One cannot look at that factor in isolation.

Mr. Thurnham

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appearance on the Front Bench. If Opposition Members think they know how to run this company better than the present management why not help those out of work because of this dispute to start up on their own and do better?

Mr. Pike

I shall not waste my time responding to that point. I accept that this company was built up from small beginnings. It was started just after the war in Tom Clarke's back yard with his wartime gratuities. This does not give Mr. Clarke the right to go back to Victorian-style management—as if it were the 1880s rather than the 1980s—and follow a policy of scant regard towards his employees. We cannot accept that and I do not believe that the Government should do so, although I do fear that this type of management is epitomised by the policies of the present extremist Right-wing Government.

Tom Clarke has said—this has been referred to already—that he would rather see the factories close if he was unable to smash the unions. That is a different view from the trade unionists. Even now, after six months, when one would expect the trade unionists to be bitter, they would like their jobs back and they would like to see those factories in full production.

The management may claim that it is getting many goods out of the factory. I was at the factory in October when there was a demonstration outside. There were vehicles going backwards and forwards and in the space of about 10 minutes it was made to look as though there were many goods coming out of the factory. The same vehicle passed us three times. In that time, it could not get around the corner and it certainly would not have had time to deliver anything.

The management may not wish to admit it, but it is getting a high percentage of return of goods produced at the present time. At the end of the day, the one thing that a customer wants when buying goods is quality as well as goods at the right price. If the management is prepared to send out sub-standard products then that company will not survive.

I wish to refer to some items that were in the company press briefing given out a few weeks ago. The first concerns the ballot.

The company said in its press release that the unions did not report to their members that the management had reviewed financial information with ACAS and the Union which showed the company was losing money. The union conveyed as much information to its members as it was permitted to do. When it met the representatives of ACAS with the company's management, the trade unionists were told, "This information is confidential and you cannot convey it to your members. It is for your information only." They were able to divulge only a small amount of the information. More important is that, when the trade unionists received the information, it left them even more convinced than before the meeting began that the company was able to pay their wage claim. Far from proving that the company was losing money and was unable to meet the terms of the pay offer, it convinced the trade unionists that their demand was fair and reasonable.

The company claimed also in its press release that the Union did not spell out the position under current legislation that … if they were to be dismissed"— that is, the workers— they would not be entitled to unemployment benefit, and were likely to have recourse to an Industrial Tribunal. That follows on very much from the argument advanced by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen, in the Adjournment debate on 6 November when he referred to the ballot. He said: the question on the ballot paper did not make it clear, as required by the Trades Union Act 1984, that the industrial action proposed to the membership would involve them in breaching their contracts of employment. Furthermore, the ballot paper referred generally to the 'action of the company in refusing to honour the 1985 pay award for the bedding trade' which is a highly partial account of what the strike action, which eventually followed, was about."—[Official Report, 6 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 104.] The Minister's statement and that of the company highlight the folly of the Trades Union Act 1984. If the relevant question is put to trade unionists in the way that the Government suggest, it will be seen as biased and an attempt to produce the result that the Government want. That cannot be fair. The parallel is if the Tory party were required to face the next general election by declaring that if elected a Conservative Government would introduce further cuts in housing expenditure, increased prescription charges once more and many other measures that would generally be unpopular. Clearly that would be nonsensical.

The Tory party wants ballots only if they will produce the answer that it wants. It looks only for the right result from its point of view. Over the weekend, the Paymaster General referred to the Transport and General Workers Union and the way in which it appoints its national executive. It is a pity that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not refer to the other place and explain that its members are unelected.

The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen, alleged that violence had taken place on the picket line when he replied to the Adjournment debate on 6 November. I have visited the picket lines at both factories on a number of occasions. I have seen no evidence of violence on the part of the union. The Government and the management regret that the trade unionists who are involved are sound and sensible people who have put their case clearly, concisely and properly wherever they have been throughout the country. Their case has been well presented, and they have received tremendous support.

When I have been on the picket lines I have seen acts of confrontation on the part of some of the drivers of Silentnight vehicles who have been passing through the factory gates. Some of the drivers of the buses that have been bringing in the scab workers who are still there have been guilty of deliberate provocation. These drivers have provoked the strikers deliberately by stopping their buses in front of the strikers' hut. I have seen the police, especially at Barnoldswick, speaking to these drivers. I have heard them say, "Move on. You are trying deliberately to cause a disturbance."

Within the past few weeks a driver jumped out of a Silentnight vehicle, armed with a stick. Another man left the vehicle with a chain wrapped round his fist. They were moved on from the Barnoldswick factory almost as soon as they got out of their vehicles. They were not allowed to do anything. The position was not the same at Sutton-in-Craven, where a caravan which was used by the pickets was deliberately broken up. The police stood by and watched that happen. That is a fact. They refused to intervene. Another picket's house was broken into and all his windows were smashed by people who are currently working at the site. It took over 45 minutes for the police to respond.

I do not condone violence from any side. I never have done and I regret that violence. Let us make it clear that if there is violence at the moment all the signs of that violence are on the side of the people who are working, not the trade unions.

The debate today has been different from the Adjournment debate a couple of weeks ago. The significant difference is that Conservative Members who have spoken have been unable fully to justify the company position. I hope that the Government will recognise that the most important priority is to get the workers back to work. My fear is not only for the workers, who will be out of work for a long time unless something is done, but if the management win, it will be a clear signal that the Government take no action to try to resolve such disputes. It will be a clear sign to similar management throughout the country as a whole. The Government will be telling managers that they can act in that way and they will support them. I hope that, even now, the Government will step back from that and use their powers to obtain a reasonable and acceptable settlement. We want both sides round the table and ACAS involved. I do not believe that the Government can wash their hands of the matter.

After the Adjournment debate, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph displayed the headline, which has been referred to on more than one occasion: This is not the way, Minister". I hope that the reply given to the debate tonight does not allow the same comment to appear in the press again.

The amendment moved by the Government seems to put the dispute into the past tense. It calls it the "recent industrial dispute". It is the existing dispute. It is still there and it is not resolved. The Government's amendment does not recognise that. In all sincerity, I hope that the Government recognise that something must be done. The dispute must be sorted out. We want those workers back at work and a return to sanity and good trade union-management relations.

9.32 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley

I join the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) in sending our best wishes to those not among us who would have been here if illness had not kept them away. The hon. Gentleman mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). The hon. Gentleman is also right about trying to get people to reach agreements themselves. The Opposition have been split, between those who genuinely want settlements in such disputes—

Ms. Clare Short


Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Lady says, "Nonsense." Some people would like to keep the dispute running so that they can continue to appeal nationally and internationally. When people read the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), especially people in Barnoldswick, they will wonder whether he is on the side of conciliation all the way through or whether he prefers to exploit a situation that has had the tragic effect of some people going on strike and others losing their jobs.

Mr. Madden

The Minister represents a Department which, before the establishment of ACAS, had a proud record of mediating and resolving industrial disputes. I hope that he does not spoil that. What the Minister said earlier was in marked contrast to what was said by the then Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he spoke in reply to the Adjournment debate. We understand that the Minister cannot require ACAS to do anything. Will he give an undertaking that he will contact ACAS urgently and ask it to contact the parties to see whether terms can be agreed to get a settlement? Will the Minister give that undertaking here and now, and not spoil his earlier excellent contribution when he condemned the way in which the management of the company has conducted the dispute, particularly in its early stages?

Mr. Bottomley

I have not condemned the management, and I have not condemned the unions. I have tried to spell out some of the facts. The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that it is not necessary for me to ask ACAS to see whether it can get agreed terms. If it helps, I shall say now to the House, and people on both sides of the recent dispute and in ACAS, who may be listening, that I hope that it is possible for people on both sides to come together and for ACAS even now to try to get a way forward that can be agreed. I hope that even if the dispute is a past dispute, some of the people who have lost their jobs will find employment.

I want to go a stage further. I want to ask the Opposition whether they are willing to accept the amendment tabled by the Government as a way of showing that they are not keen to take only one side, as their motion does. It states: That this House gives full support to the employees … who are on strike". I know that the Labour party is split, but if hon. Members believe that it is better to try to create an atmosphere that allows people to start talking about the terms on which they would come together, I suggest that they have consultations during the next 25 minutes on whether they are willing to accept the Government's amendment, in order to give a freer field to those who might be able to bring the two sides together. I understand that the Labour party is split and that many hon. Members would have preferred it if the strike had not taken place. When it did, I am sure they would have preferred the union to take people back to work when they realised that the strike was not going to have the desired result. Even now people believe that creating the right atmosphere would be better than to go on with the motion which, by its own words, is totally one-sided.

Ms. Clare Short

We in the Labour party are proud to say that we support the workers in the dispute. The management has been absolutely intransigent. It has refused arbitration, yet the Minister says that he thinks that arbitration is desirable. We are saying that we want a settlement. The workers want their jobs back. If Mr. Clarke was a decent employer, he would negotiate. We are asking the hon. Gentleman, as a Minister representing the Tory Government, to pick up the phone, speak to his Tory friend and tell him to negotiate a settlement of the dispute.

Mr. Skinner

Go on. Do a Johnson Matthey and bail them out.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has made various references. I am tempted to go on with the Tea Room conversation and inform the House of some of our conversations in the Television Room during the Olympics before last. If the hon. Gentleman provoked me really far, we might discuss our behaviour in a car at Battersea power station on an occasion or two. It is just as relevant to the debate as what the hon. Gentleman is alluding to, but I might be able to keep quiet about it, unless I had his permission to speak in public. I return to the point that I was trying to share with the Opposition—[Interruption.] In parentheses, I should like to say that I do not think the hon. Gentleman needs to advertise either his services or mine.

The Labour party has said that it gives full support to the one side in the recent dispute. I want it to accept the Government's amendment. Unless Labour Members believe that there is no point in trying to help the employees and ex-employees, the management and the owners to come together under agreed terms of reference, they should drop their motion and accept the amendment. The hon. Member for Burnley is aware—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

It is not the "recent" dispute.

Mr. Bottomley

"Recent" could be interpreted as the start of the dispute, if that helps the hon. Gentleman.

If the hon. Member for Burnley wants to provide an atmosphere in which people can start talking about talking to each other, it helps to take the partisan nature out of the debate. My contributions to the debate follow those of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in the previous debate.

Various facts and differences of view were set out then, some of which have been repeated by Labour Members tonight. I have tried to do as the hon. Member for Blackburn requested, when he said that he wanted an even-handed approach—he has got it—to strikes and industrial relations law. He went on to call for strengthened conciliation and arbitration. The first part of the role of ACAS is advice, then there is conciliation and, finally, arbitration, if the parties agree to it. The hon. Member for Blackburn wanted a climate in which the use of such machinery was encouraged. The speeches of the hon. Members for Bolsover and for Coventry, South-East were not conducive to creating such an atmosphere. It might have been better if the parliamentary interests had been awake and started talking before July.

It is commonly accepted that at the time of the ballot just over 60 per cent. of those who voted were for strike action. I want to get the wording of the ballot paper absolutely right: Following the action of the Company, in refusing to honour the 1985 Wage Award for the Bedding Trade, it has been decided following pressure from the shop floor, through the Shop Stewards Committee to hold a Ballot to indicate the wishes of the membership whether or not to get involved in a course of Industrial Action. Please answer the following question below, by putting a cross in the box of your choice. Do you wish to take industrial action up to and including if necessary strike action?

Ms. Clare Short

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Bottomley

If one wants to be precise, it does not provide the reminder about breaching the contract of employment.

After that ballot, when the vote went in favour of taking action up to and including strike action, my understanding is that the offer was made to meet the national award. I believe that is common ground.

Ms. Clare Short

After they had voted for a strike.

Mr. Bottomley

That is what I said. I am glad the hon. Lady is still with us in following through part of the dispute.

After the ballot and after the company had agreed to meet the national award, there was a dispute about whether the company should or would provide the follow-through so that the agreement applied to piece rates as well. When the company said that it would not, the strike continued. Many unions, and perhaps even members of the same union, would have considered very seriously at that stage whether or not a continued strike would be successful. The hon. Member for Burnley, with his experience, knows that there are times when continued action leads to a better result, times when it does not, and times when people have to make judgment about whether they should continue on strike.

Mr. Nellist

Does the Minister accept that in the summer the workers at Silentnight were being told that the company could not and would not carry through the pay negotiation because it could not afford it? At the same time the workers knew that the chairman of the company was worth £50 million. It is not surprising that the lads and lasses at Silentnight should say, "He can afford it, and we will have it." A company worth that amount of money says that it cannot afford the pay rise. It is the chairman of that company who is responsible for the action that occurred thereafter, not those who stuck by the decision of the union.

Mr. Bottomley

Where the hon. Gentleman misleads himself is that, although the workers may have said that they would have the pay rise, they did not get it and now some of them have not got their jobs. If he was one of those who advised them to stay on strike, he must take responsibility for the fact that people who would otherwise be working now are not. That is one of the points I have been trying to make.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East keeps referring to people being worth a lot of money. He has a choice. He can talk about someone who has built up a business that is worth a lot of money and employs many people, or he may talk about a pop star who is worth millions but employs nobody. If the pop star supports the Labour party and if the chairman of the company supports the Tory party, who is to say that one is doing better or worse than the other as regards employment?

Mr. Hoyle

The Minister must agree that pop stars are not under scrutiny here tonight. An anti-trade union company is under scrutiny. What is the Minister's view of the fact that the company will not go to arbitration although the union has said that it would go without preconditions? What will be the Minister's advice to the company and to that Conservative party supporter, Mr. Clarke?

Mr. Bottomley

The union is now willing to go to arbitration without preconditions because it is working uphill. The union may feel itself responsible for the fact that the strikers do not have their jobs. If the union had shown more interest in a solution or negotiation, we should not be discussing the dispute.

Reference has been made to someone being a Conservative party supporter.

Ms. Clare Short

At last.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) is vice-president of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs. He was elected after a contested ballot. I believe that 1.6 per cent. of the union's membership voted for him. I may have the figure wrong, and I shall be corrected if that is the case. He is a leading officer of a union which is affiliated to the Labour party. The union does not claim that more than 30 per cent. of its members pay the political levy. From the published figures, it seems that nine out of 10 of the union's members do not pay the political levy although the donation made to the Labour party is for 30 per cent. of its members.

Ms. Clare Short

How is that relevant?

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Lady asks how that is relevant. It has the same relevance as saying that a company chairman is a supporter of a different political party. I suggest that the hon. Member for Warrington, North should give that matter some thought. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bolsover spoke about the condition in which the strikers and those who have been dismissed now find themselves. He waxed fairly loudly about those people who might be starving and in need.

Mr. Hoyle

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bottomley

Not at the moment.

All those involved in the dispute had a responsibility to give advice early in the dispute. When people strike, they are sometimes successful in forcing a business to pay more than it can afford. If that business fails and they all become redundant, they will not have champions in the House of Commons asking about the children, the wives and those who are unemployed, because the matter is dead. The Labour party is only having the debate because the business is surviving. It is doing a bad service—

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Bottomley

I shall not give way.

It is wrong for hon. Members to suggest that people should have their cases raised when the business survives, not when it fails.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Bottomley

I shall not give way for the moment. Just because I am not shouting at the hon. Gentleman in the way that he shouts at us does not mean that I do not feel as strongly as he does.

It has been suggested that the past few years' industrial relations legislation has somehow caused the dispute. The only difference that industrial relations legislation has made to this dispute is that a ballot was held—it might have been held anyway—which gave a clear answer to the question on the ballot paper. That is important. Legislation passed since 1979 and that passed by the Labour Government has not required employers to settle for what a union has asked. Neither did previous legislation deny an employer the right to dismiss those who did not return to work. If the hon. Member for Burnley wishes to say that I am wrong on that, I shall willingly give way to him.

References have been made to the absence of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier). I have not made a great song and dance about the absence of the shadow spokesman on employment, who presumably suggested this subject for debate, going, presumably, to Newcastle, and leaving it to others to speak for him.

During the debate we heard a good speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson), who raised the issue that the union—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is intolerable that the Minister should be subjected to a barrage from other hon. Members. He has a right to make his speech.

Mr. Hoyle

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I agree with you completely. Why does the Minister not address himself to the subject of the debate, which is why the company is not prepared to go to arbitration?

Mr. Speaker

Every hon. Member has a right to make his speech in his own way.

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon asked whether the union advised its members at the company that the management was bluffing. He asked what the union was saying to the employees when they were advised that, if they did not return to work, they would be dismissed.

There is also the question whether the people allegedly speaking on behalf of the workers talked or listened to the majority of the work force, which is still at work. Let us leave aside the question of those who may have filled some of the jobs that were previously held by the strikers, although I do not normally hear people referred to as scabs if they enter the House as Labour Members in the place of others who have failed the reselection test. That seems to be all right for members who are tribunes of the people, who can bawl and shout, but it is different for others. Perhaps the hon. Member for Burnley can speak for the workers who have stayed at work during the dispute and are still at work.

Mr. Pike

When the Minister gives a figure for the number of people at work, he must take account of the fact that they are not all production workers. A large number work in other areas, and they are in a completely different position. The pay issue under dispute is not applicable to those workers. For that reason, the figures are largely distorted. The purpose of the debate is to find out whether the Government recognise that there is a dispute. Their amendment seems to imply that they take the company view that the dispute is over. If the Government accept that there is a dispute—we can argue all night about the wording of the motion—are they prepared to help to resolve the dispute and get the people back to work?

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman is aware that if the debate is taking place on the basis that some people believe that there is still hope that discussions might help those involved, there is a great deal to be said for a little deliberate ambiguity. The use of the words "recent dispute" provides that cloak under which discussions might take place.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Bottomley

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's speech in a moment, but I ask him to contain himself for a while.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) who put up with a great deal of normal good-natured abuse from Labour Members. She reminded us of financial facts. It is important that both the management and the unions see the importance of putting financial facts across at all times.

Mrs. Peacock

I hope that, in the time left to him, my hon. Friend will devote some moments to commenting on the Silentnight subsidiary companies, which have experienced no such problems, and the rest of the National Bedding Federation, which has accepted similar terms.

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend has provided me with the opportunity, as someone who has spoken neither to the company nor to the union because I would not speak to one without the other, to say that if Silentnight had been paying only the national minimum, there would not have been a dispute. If the company had agreed after the ballot to pay the minimum award, that would have been the end of the matter. The dispute continued only because the company was paying more than the basic minimum.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) talked about exploitation of the dispute. He mystified most of us because he said that he would vote for the motion if it were not withdrawn, but started talking as though he regretted, as I do, the exploitation of those who are led to go on strike by those who, to use the word of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), "invaded" the town last weekend.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman used the word "invasion". Perhaps we can consult the Official Report together after the debate.

There used to be a series of articles in Labour publications devoted to explaining how it is exploitation of one person by another to build up a business in the way that this business was originally built up. For example, Labour Weekly used to be full of pages about how turning a wartime gratuity into a business that employed hundreds of people, paid taxes and national insurance contributions and exported was exploitation by one person of many others. Towards the back page, Labour Weekly also had an article on how to win £500,000 on the football pools, using Labour Weekly perm No. 46. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is wrong to build up a business that provides employment so that at least some Labour party members can criticise them? Is it not better to build up employment than to spend one's time pulling people out of jobs where they had the sort of work into which they now wish to return?

Mr. Skinner

Why does the hon. Gentleman not get round to the central question of the debate? On this issue, the Government are not prepared to intervene to settle a dispute in which families have been out for 26 weeks, whereas when Johnson Matthey plc ran into trouble—taking account of the fact that the Minister has relatives on the board of Johnson Matthey plc—they were prepared to move in with £100 million of taxpayers' money to bail out the company. Why are they not now prepared to look after these furniture workers, who have been hammered by one of their friends, Mr. Wonderful? Why does the Minister not turn his attention to that rather than talk about extraneous matters?

Mr. Bottomley

Is what I am saying extraneous when, as we were reminded in a report today, we need to create 1,200 jobs each day or 6,000 within five working days—roughly the rate at which we have been creating jobs in the past two years? For that, people need to find way of meeting customers' needs and of building up businesses in the way that this business grew. Unions need to be rather better at judging whether continued strikes lead to better terms and conditions or fewer jobs.

The sad truth in this dispute is that where there is political exploitation—which is what the motion is about—there is a smaller chance of getting the two sides back together. Speeches such as those that we have heard from the hon. Members for Bolsover and for Coventry, South-East, are not about conditions and opportunities for those who have been working in a company. I prefer the attitude of the hon. Member for Burnley.

I repeat what I said at the beginning. I hope that it is possible for those involved in the dispute to come together and to avoid such disputes in the future, and for politics not to come into future disputes.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 167, Noes 262.

Division No. 16] [10 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Hancock, Mr. Michael
Alton, David Harman, Ms Harriet
Anderson, Donald Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Ashton, Joe Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Home Robertson, John
Bagier, Gordon A, T. Hoyle, Douglas
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Barnett, Guy Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Barron, Kevin Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bell, Stuart Janner, Hon Greville
Benn, Rt Hon Tony John, Brynmor
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Johnston, Sir Russell
Bermingham, Gerald Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Blair, Anthony Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Boyes, Roland Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Bray, Dr Jeremy Kirkwood, Archy
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Lambie, David
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Lamond, James
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Leighton, Ronald
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bruce, Malcolm Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Buchan, Norman Litherland, Robert
Caborn, Richard Livsey, Richard
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Campbell, Ian Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Campbell-Savours, Dale Loyden, Edward
Canavan, Dennis McCartney, Hugh
Carter-Jones, Lewis McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cartwright, John McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McKelvey, William
Clarke, Thomas MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Clay, Robert McNamara, Kevin
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McTaggart, Robert
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) McWilliam, John
Cohen, Harry Madden, Max
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Marek, Dr John
Corbett, Robin Martin, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Crowther, Stan Maxton, John
Cunningham, Dr John Maynard, Miss Joan
Dalyell, Tam Meacher, Michael
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Meadowcroft, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Michie, William
Deakins, Eric Mikardo, Ian
Dewar, Donald Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Dixon, Donald Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dobson, Frank Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dormand, Jack Nellist, David
Douglas, Dick Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Duffy, A. E. P. O'Brien, William
Eadie, Alex Park, George
Eastham, Ken Patchett, Terry
Ewing, Harry Pavitt, Laurie
Fatchett, Derek Pike, Peter
Faulds, Andrew Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Radice, Giles
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Randall, Stuart
Fisher, Mark Redmond, M.
Flannery, Martin Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Richardson, Ms Jo
Forrester, John Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Foster, Derek Robertson, George
Foulkes, George Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Rogers, Allan
Freud, Clement Rooker, J. W.
George, Bruce Rowlands, Ted
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Sedgemore, Brian
Godman, Dr Norman Sheerman, Barry
Golding, John Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Gould, Bryan Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Gourlay, Harry Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central) Skinner, Dennis
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury) White, James
Soley, Clive Williams, Rt Hon A.
Spearing, Nigel Winnick, David
Stott, Roger Wrigglesworth, Ian
Strang, Gavin Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tinn, James
Torney, Tom Tellers for the Ayes:
Wardell, Gareth (Gower) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Weetch, Ken Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Welsh, Michael
Adley, Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Aitken, Jonathan Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Alexander, Richard du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dunn, Robert
Amess, David Durant, Tony
Ancram, Michael Dykes, Hugh
Ashby, David Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Aspinwall, Jack Eggar, Tim
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Evennett, David
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Eyre, Sir Reginald
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fan, Sir John
Batiste, Spencer Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fletcher, Alexander
Bellingham, Henry Fookes, Miss Janet
Bendall, Vivian Forman, Nigel
Benyon, William Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Best, Keith Forth, Eric
Bevan, David Gilroy Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Fox, Marcus
Blackburn, John Franks, Cecil
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Body, Richard Freeman, Roger
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fry, Peter
Bottomley, Peter Galley, Roy
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Glyn, Dr Alan
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Goodlad, Alastair
Bright, Graham Gorst, John
Brinton, Tim Gower, Sir Raymond
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Grant, Sir Anthony
Brooke, Hon Peter Gregory, Conal
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Browne, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bruinvels, Peter Grist, Ian
Bryan, Sir Paul Ground, Patrick
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Grylls, Michael
Budgen, Nick Gummer, Rt Hon John S
Bulmer, Esmond Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Butcher, John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butler, Rt Hon Adam Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, John (Luton N) Hannam, John
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Haselhurst, Alan
Carttiss, Michael Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Cash, William Hawksley, Warren
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hayes, J.
Chapman, Sydney Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney
Chope, Christopher Hayward, Robert
Churchill, W. S. Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Heddle, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Henderson, Barry
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hickmet, Richard
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clegg, Sir Walter Hind, Kenneth
Cockeram, Eric Hirst, Michael
Colvin, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Conway, Derek Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Coombs, Simon Holt, Richard
Cope, John Hordern, Sir Peter
Cormack, Patrick Howard, Michael
Couchman, James Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Cranborne, Viscount Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Crouch, David Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Dickens, Geoffrey Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Dicks, Terry Hunt, David (Wirral)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hunter, Andrew Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Jackson, Robert Shersby, Michael
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Silvester, Fred
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sims, Roger
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Skeet, T. H. H.
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Soames, Hon Nicholas
Key, Robert Speller, Tony
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Spence, John
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Spencer, Derek
Knowles, Michael Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Knox, David Squire, Robin
Lamont, Norman Stanbrook, Ivor
Lang, Ian Stanley, John
Latham, Michael Steen, Anthony
Lawrence, Ivan Stern, Michael
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lester, Jim Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)
Lightbown, David Stokes, John
Lilley, Peter Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Sumberg, David
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Lord, Michael Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Luce, Richard Temple-Morris, Peter
McCrindle, Robert Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
McQuarrie, Albert Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Major, John Thornton, Malcolm
Mates, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Mather, Carol Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mellor, David Trippier, David
Merchant, Piers Trotter, Neville
Moate, Roger Twinn, Dr Ian
Monro, Sir Hector Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Viggers, Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Waddington, David
Moynihan, Hon C. Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Neale, Gerrard Waldegrave, Hon William
Neubert, Michael Walden, George
Newton, Tony Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Nicholls, Patrick Wall, Sir Patrick
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Waller, Gary
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Walters, Dennis
Parris, Matthew Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Pattie, Geoffrey Warren, Kenneth
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Watson, John
Pollock, Alexander Watts, John
Powley, John Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Rhodes James, Robert Wheeler, John
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Whitfield, John
Roe, Mrs Marion Wiggin, Jerry
Rossi, Sir Hugh Winterton, Mrs Ann
Rost, Peter Winterton, Nicholas
Rowe, Andrew Wolfson, Mark
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Wood, Timothy
Ryder, Richard Woodcock, Michael
Sackville, Hon Thomas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Sayeed, Jonathan Tellers for the Noes:
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and
Shelton, William (Streatham) Mr. Francis Maude.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Question on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House notes with regret the recent industrial dispute at Silentnight plc.